IWBs in 140 Characters

Recently I’ve seen some some discussion about IWBs (interactive whiteboards) on Twitter.  Having been coming and going sporadically in Twitter for quite a while now, I don’t really know the issues being talked about–I have just picked up that there is a yeah, “we’re for them” group, and a “no, we’re not” group. The latest comment I saw was @Tom Whitby’s tweet, “Plz read & comment: My Latest Post: IWB’s Help or Hurt? http://bit.ly/86CKmb #edchat #education #edtech”  to which I responded,”@tomwhitby An IWB is inanimate… it’s what the teacher does with it that makes a diff–and helps or hurts what? #edchat #education #edtech

So,in reading the tweets referencing IWBs, I can’t help but think about one of my early experiences on Twitter–where @Betchaboy (Chris Betcher, from Australia), asked for IWB stories for a book he and a friend were writing.  🙂   I contacted him and offered to share a story-and it was indeed printed in the book, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution.

With the intent of getting involved in the conversation, I’m reposting it here as I sent it to Chris in October, 2008.  As I recall, it was somewhat edited in the book, but don’t have the book here with me to check.

Students may like the “interactivity” of IWBs, but the communal engagement of using them is most powerful. Typically, students fill in the blank or answer closed questions on IWB notebook activities teachers find or create, with the IWB simply being a big touchscreen where kids compete to show they know the correct answer. As I plan, I search for ways that the technology changes the task or increases the depth of how the task is understood or completed. I also consider the potential for thoughtful conversations.

Influential activities I use involve co-editing or co-creating a product to meet specific goals. Many teachers I work with use “Editor in Chief” where students read, edit and (sometimes) recopy in their best handwriting the edited text. When “Editor in Chief” is done on the IWB, students observe peers modeling their thinking about the mistakes made and how to correct them. I often see an increase in intellectual risk-taking as students become willing to share in order to have a turn to use the IWB.  They actually clamor to edit!
Discussing student strategies and options for revision are also much easier than when students simply read their text aloud, describing what they did. The IWB allows for
and promotes engagement through a variety of learning modes.

Another powerful activity involves teaching students summarizing and notetaking, a high yield strategy identified by Robert Marzano. My students examine a text (often wikipedia entries, so we can explore authenticity and accuracy) about a historical event, such as “. . . the importance of the American victory at Yorktown.” (VA SOL Virginia Studies 5.c)

We display the Seige of Yorktown wikipedia text on the IWB, with 2 students having airliners.  The rest have their textbooks/laptops and history journals. I like the airliners (a wireless slate connected to the display computer through Bluetooth technology) because, with the slate, students control the IWB from wherever they are in the room.  Working from their seat puts the emphasis on the text on the IWB, not the person in front activating the board.

As everyone silently reads the text, they note vocabulary that may be an issue for or interesting to them. Students without airliners attempt to condense the text into one sentence or main idea. Concurrently, one “airliner pilot” is using colored pens to mark up the text on the IWB as the second pilot watches. The goal is to make learning and thinking transparent, and the use of the IWB facilitates this by allowing students to see what other students are doing, AS THEY ARE DOING IT. As students finish their independent work, they, too, watch the first pilot who is using the airliner and IWB to make their thinking transparent.

We probe why pilot #1 did what s/he did, and others naturally chime in to describe their process. When we have finished probing, we all contribute as pilot # 2 attempts the same two tasks (with more information and having had instruction), now synthesizing and evaluating everything that has been said and done to this point. Doing this twice supports another of Marzano’s strategies, reinforcing effort and providing recognition. Working, thinking, talking and learning together, we encourage each other to provide recognition for work well done, as we comment upon, agree or disagree and improve our understanding of essential content and effective summarizing. The way we use the IWB is integral to this process of thinking and collaboration.

We then reflect upon condensing the entry into one sentence, discussing the efficiency, effectiveness and support for understanding that provides. Marzano’s research shows that students should substitute, delete and keep some things as they use the basic structure of the information presented. Using the IWB allows us, as a group, to work on the structure of the text, comparing and contrasting our first activity of a “one sentence summary” to collaboratively creating a more effective summary.

When students share their processes and strategies, other students hear what they are looking at, paying attention to and the connections they make as they read and work.  Sharing this “thinking about their thinking” provides models for less experienced students to note that successful summarizers pay attention to things such as text features, the connections a reader makes (whether it be self to text, text to text, or text to world, etc.) and the vocabulary in the text so that they can use it or find synonyms as they restate the material in their own words.

Students learn to question what is unclear, seek clarification and analyze a text/topic to uncover what is central, restating it in their on words. Using the IWB to scaffold students observing, talking about and reflecting upon their own process supports deeper understanding. As we finish this lesson by collaboratively creating a clearly stated summary of our text, students noticeably show their increased understanding of summarizing, and we all acknowledge that having the IWB as a tool helped tremendously!

There are some other great examples in the book, so if you can get your hands on it, it is worth reading.

Now, having said all that and describing some ways to use an IWB well (I think), let me say I don’t use one in my classroom. It’s simply too hard to go get it, set it up and plan out how to use it in powerful ways. I prefer to use the SmartBoard notebook software with my airliners and an LCD projector hooked to my computer–no need for the big board, or the time it takes to get it and set it up..  🙂 I also think it promotes the sage on the tage rather than collaboration and I prefer hands on work in small groups. I also think we can do a lot of what I’d think of doing with other tools online that are just as good, more easily accessible and not space hogs. So, I guess I’d have to join the group I referenced above that says “no, we’re not for them.”

Now, catch me up and challenge my stance.  Please.

World Peace Game-And An Example Of Big Picture Thinking

Week before last I listened to an interview with a teaching friend, John Hunter, about the premier of a documentary being made around him and a game he invented called World Peace. (See the You Tube Video here: John Hunter explaining his World Peace game. ) John is  a gifted resource teacher in my division and he described his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it.”

His game is one that has evolved over the 30+ years he’s been teaching and he clearly is a teacher who doesn’t mind the students being in control of their learning. Heck, he even talks in this interview about supporting that, and that once the game begins, it is out of his hands. John is an amazing teacher, thinker and colleague and it’s a great pleasure to work in a system where I have relatively regular contact with him, even though he’s in a another school. If you are in Charlottesville, VA on February 21, 2010, please attend the premier of this documentary at the Paramount Theatre. I guarantee it will amaze and astound you and give you food for thought.

In this interview, John also speaks to the ease/relief/ability to be this creative because he works with kids who have already learned the minimum state standards, so they can explore these bigger questions of life. I think all gifted teachers have some of this feeling in us. Because of the students’ abilities with whom we work, we DO have more latitude in what we teach in many situations. That’s both a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because we can meet these very, very bright kids at the level at which they think without them being slowed down by thinkers who may not make the intuitive leaps they do, who may not have the background of information they do, and who may not have the confidence to challenge them as they think aloud. This experience isn’t about elitism, but about allowing students the opportunities to think with others who think at their speed, at the depth they do, and who question the world as they often do.

It’s bad because all teachers do not feel they have the latitude to teach this way with all students–to explore big questions of life and tie their lessons into essential questions that support students making those connections between topics, between concepts and between understandings that are universal and that deepen their understanding of the world.

I have a teacher in my  school, though, who is attempting to teach to that level with ALL of her students in math. This teacher has developed a structure that is based on the ideas behind the “Daily Five” in literacy. She has created a pie, divided into three pieces, which, after brainstorming with several folks, she decided on the categories Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) suggested, which were strategy, fluency and numeracy.

Of course these overlap, but by looking at each of these each day, and helping kids thinking metacognitively about these skills, they become more aware of their mathematical thinking and in turn, become better at it. She devises a set of three problems that revolve around big ideas in math and then the children self-select which of the three problem solving tasks they will work on for the week. By Friday they create a poster describing their thinking and explaining the way the solved the problem. That’s the numeracy piece of her pie.

The fluency piece is the arithmetical part of math–direct teaching and practice of basic skills, based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 4th grade.

The strategy piece of her pie is worked on in several ways–through the posters the students create to show their thinking, the work they do as the week goes along and the classroom conversations that occur around their work. Students love the structure, they are free to develop their own strategies to solve the problems, they talk about the connections between the various problems and they self-select into the groups that sometimes stretch them, sometimes allow them practice and sometimes allow them to lead the problem solving process.

Big picture thinking and teaching and learning–why doesn’t it happen in more classrooms? How can we restructure our schools so that it can be pervasive and the norm rather than the outlier?

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Last summer I was just beginning to use social networking tools.  I hadn’t begun my blog, hadn’t joined a bunch of wikis, and had more free time, so I was exploring and getting to know Tweeters to follow and talk with. I spent a great deal of my summer sitting in front of my computer learning from the great minds I found sharing online. I lived through a number of conferences vicariously through others’ tweets.  I learned about online conferencing and streaming-and was totally impressed with the amount of work people do to share with other educators. I built a personal/professional learning network online, making friends all over the world, and became more aware of world issues. I had an amazing time and went back to school raving about the new connections I was making, and had made. It was an eye-opening summer where I mostly “took” and learned from the connections I found.

Summer09  was extremely different. I was busy all the time, so didn’t have those lazy summer days to sit in front of my computer and learn from the HUGE number of great minds online. However, I attended a ton of conferences in real life and got to meet many of my twitterfolks.

In June, I began a six day workshop in my county about assessing critical thinking. Several of the teachers involved were twitterfolk and the tweeting we had done throughout the year changed the way we interacted, I believe—there was a level of familiarity, comfort and trust that may not have been there a year ago. One of the reasons I love twitter and the ability it gives me to interact with others is that I have been able to connect to like-minded people and learn from others’ differing perspectives as well. Twitter so reduces isolation for many of us! I’ve watched @mtechman blossom into a GREAT online leader and thinker on Twitter, and consider her a good friend now—I barely knew her before Twitter, despite the fact we had attended meetings and emailed each other.

At the end of June, early July, I attended NECC in D.C and got to meet MANY of my Twitter people. I loved seeing how they were so true to their online personas—see @BenGrey’s post about meeting Tweeps at NECC—that one particularly resonated with me.  I presented at NECCUnplugged (and was streamed!) and participated in a panel discussion organized by @K_Shelton (Ken) with 6 folks I had only met online before. All of those experiences made me even more aware of the power of an online network. (And, I’ll share something few people know—I decided to try an experiment.  Since my county didn’t pay for me to attend,  I decided I would see JUST how far the networking would suffice to make the conference worthwhile.  I went  to NO sessions. I used my time there for that networking, meeting people, conversing, learning, eavesdropping on other conversations (blatantly, so no offense was taken) and reading the tweets from NECC09.) My time was WELL spent, and I didn’t have to sit through uninteresting sessions or walk out of ones, as some of my Tweeps did.

I also met Sheila Teri, from VA Beach face to face at  NECC.  She and I skyped with several classes last year and have expanded those experiences into a Skype Across VA wiki this year, and we also have buddy classes in first grade skyping each month.  I also have begun another wiki, USA Fun Facts with Paula Naugle (who is from Lousiana) and we have 12 other states participating with us. Both of these connections were made over Twitter.

The second week of July, I participated in a local conference, EDUSTAT, which turned into a national and even international one through the online participation that happened because of Twitter. I got to know and spend some time with @chadratliff and @jonbecker, who attended from their areas.  MANY of our local folks joined Twitter that week and are now quite active!  (@classroots, @trevorprzyuski, @billsterrett, to name a few.) The connections made that week just keep growing:

  • see @classroots blog and the accompanying wiki he and I began to join a conversation about authentic engagement
  • @chadratliff is joining Albemarle County as a Central Office leader—can’t wait to work with him in his new job in Innovation!
  • @trevorprzyuski’s blog, 7 Things I learned this summer triggered this blog. . I had had it floating ‘round for a while, just couldn’t get going. His unblocked me!

The last week of July I went to the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston with a team from my school system. The work as a team there had begun in early summer, and continues now. I am part of a great LOCAL team of thinkers whose charge is (as our Sup’t @pammoran said,) to think about how we enroll our colleagues in innovation!

BLC09 was another amazing experience of meeting Tweeps, and I attended my first EdubloggerCon, a full day of learning that was organized by @lizbdavis (Liz Davis) and @lthumann (Lisa Thumann). I had met Angela Maiers face to face at NECC, and, while at BLC, @AngelaMaiers, @BeckyFisher73 and I began planning a two day workshop we hope to share with Virginia’s ASCD affiliate, VASCD. I spent time with @TeachaKidd (Lee Kolbert) and ALL of those ladies are just as lovely—and SMART–in real life as they are online.

The beginning of August, ASCD informed @fisher1000 and me our proposal to present had been accepted. Mike works in Buffalo, NY—we’ve only met online, but will be co-presenting at ASCD in San Antonio in March! The idea to put in a proposal began when we were building/sharing/conversing about the Visual Bloom’s schemata and the accompanying web sites, Blooms Rubrics, Ideas for the Visual and Professional Practice.

Then August 5, I attended the Google Teacher Academy at Google Headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, to become a Google Certified Teacher. Again, I met tweeps and got to talk to people in real life I had developed relationships with online. I learn so much from the smart people I have found online, and am continually amazed at the new folks I find and who find me. (Thanks, Ken, (@K_Shelton) for urging me to apply!)

The Google experience is amazing—my one regret from the day was that I didn’t get to talk to more people. (Thanks, @ScottElias for recommending Fat Tire and @Wfryer for starting the beer drinking that late afternoon!)  Michael Wacker was my real treat for the day, though, as his Colorado hospitality knows no bounds. Now, @Mwacker and I are collaborating on a proposal to the ISTE 2010 conference. Want to add your 2 cents worth? Join our brainstorming at http://mwpwiste10.wikispaces.com.

And, in the past week, I have worked with and met our new teachers at our New Teacher Academy, where the sharing was just unprecedented, and participated in a 2 hour debriefing about BLC09 with our local team, where the conversations continue over our email.

Last fall I attended the k12online conference–this year I am applying to present AND I am on the PR committee with my usafunfacts friend, Paula (@plnaugle) and Lisa Parisi and Pat Woessner, all online buddies.)

BUT, the most memorable thing about this summer for me will be the fact that I tweeted during the opportunities I had, so others could sit in the comfort of THEIR homes and attend them vicariously through Twitter.

I hope I gave this summer as much as I took last summer. . .

I know I’ve learned so much in both, and am a different person due to that sharing, taking, learning, teaching, growing and twittering!

backchannels–silently in their heads

I have a colleague, Nancy, who is part of the county team going to BLC09.  I think she’s a personality type called an owl–she listens carefully in group conversations, speaks rarely, but when she does, what she says is incredibly insightful, thought-provoking and often downright brilliant.

At our recent team conversation (see previous post) we were talking about the conference themes and which ones we’d like to center on, how to go about it, and looking at a few logistics.  Some of us in the group are avid tweeters, others have joined but not gotten into it, and others don’t even know it. Some of us have experienced conferences with backchannels going, some of us haven’t.  I spoke to the power of backchannels (even had to define and describe what a back channel was) and was raving about how cool it was going to be to experience the backchannels at this particular conference.  I talked a bit about how some of my twitterverse has shared about using backchannels in the classroom, and people were asking great questions and thinking about it. We talked about how this is a contemporary skill/practice and how we need to think through how this can be done in the classroom.  As almost always happens when a group of innovators are thinking about how to move others along the continuum of technology use, someone said something about how teachers would say, “We don’t want them having backchannels in the classrooms.”

Then Nancy zinged: Instead, we want to them to have it silently happening in their brain.


Does that not run counter to anything we know about learning?  Does it not run counter to Vygotsky, to Bloom, to any name you can name in education writing? Does that not take the social out of learning? I don’t know about you, but when I can talk about something I am learning, it makes more sense to me.  I make meaning out of it more quickly and more deeply. Shouldn’t we be providing our students that opportunity as well?

No wonder our kids are bored stiff and give schooling no quality points in their world. What gets the points?  The social parts of school. . ..LUNCH. . RECESS. . .IN BETWEEN CLASSES. . .the classes where teachers set up collaborative projects, conversations, activities. . .

Maybe if we made school more social and made it NOT about “happening silently  in their brains” we would get more buy in.  Maybe if we listened more and talked less. . .maybe if we gave them the tools and supported what THEY want to do with it, then maybe, just maybe the majority of our kids would say they loved learning, rather than they hate school.

What about those backchannels?

We need them to keep it from


What about the “backchannels”?

Recently I was one of a group of people in our system invited by our Superintendent to go to Alan November’s BLC 09 conference as a team to bring what we can back. I was honored and thrilled–and even more so a few days later when I was also invited to be part of the practitioner’s strand and present at the Building Learning Communities conference. So I am going–as part of an austere group of educators from our county–and I am presenting!

Last week, the group going was called together to begin to pre-plan and strengthen our own community of learners who will converse, listen, think and learn together before we go, while we are there, and after we return. Our team consists of some amazing educators, many of whom are on Twitter–@BeckyFisher73, @jacatlett, (Janelle)  @dld1, (Donna DeGroat) @dharding3, (Diane Harding) and Beth Costa, Kristen Williams, Nancy McCullen, Christa Livermon and John Hunter. Many of these folks are our new instructional coaches (Christa and Janelle will be in my region) and I am looking forward to going with this group.

Last week, we talked about our goals in going:

Where do we, as a school system, go next?  As we incorporate more 21st century tools, what do we want to accomplish? What can we bring back?

When many of us saw Alan November at VASCD, we heard him talk about new literacies and redefining or recognizing new literacies–just what IS 21st century learning? How do we ensure that students do new things? We wonder about student involvement in creating the questions. . do they get to? Students need choices  that are open-ended and creative; we recognize it’s not just about the technology, but what the technology is forcing us to see and understand about our world. That’s a foundational understanding many teachers don’t have.  What foundational underpinnings do we want for ourselves, our teachers, our students? How do we best help students think for themselves?

We reminded ourselves visual literacy is crucial–how do we make that a vital part of our curriculum?  Back channels came up–we talked a bit about how conferences are changing because of back channel conversations–and the power of networks like twitter.

Our notetaker recorded these questions:

  • Redefining what literacy means, what is the “new literacy”?  Does everything 21st century mean “just technology”?  What about collaboration?
  • How do we hold ourselves accountable for addressing 21st century teaching and learning (beyond “you have to have 2 technology projects each year) information literacy, visual literacy, inquiry, collaboration
  • How do we stay on top of all of what we need to know and be able to do?
  • What do we mean by “21st century learning”? Not all wikis are 21st century?
  • If it sounds too intellectual and we don’t make it practical enough and related enough to the learning environment, are we pointing out the right stuff in the examples?
  • Examples that cut across specific projects but illustrate how we can just do this as what we do?
  • How do we make this more about who we are and not just something a few people do?
  • What does inquire, collaborate, etc. mean for students?
  • Why do we wait until after the SOLs to do cool stuff?  creative productions with choices…why aren’t we doing this all of the time?

We decided to meet again closer to the time we go, and also go to the opening reception together. We also agreed that we should pair up to go to sessions so we could bounce ideas off of a teammate.

And, again, we were reminded:

“Watch the back channels – this will be very interesting.”

iPod Pilot Lesson-Station 3

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so this is take 3, the description of Station 3.  (See previous posts for description of stations 1 and 2.)

Station 3 was to record the number of rolls it took to get 6 of a kind in ** Motion-X Dice**.  We had done this before, just collecting data and then looking at that data. Today’s twist was to predict how many rolls it would take and then calculate the variance between their prediction and the actual count.

To introduce this task, I put a three column chart on the board labeled P, A and V.  (I use T-charts all the time as organizers in my classroom, so adding a column is nothing the kids haven’t seen before.) As I introduced the chart, I told them that today we were not only going to record the actual rolls of the dice, as we have done before but we were going to calculate something called “variance.”  I then pointed to the chart and asked what they thought the V meant.  Of course they said variance, and I said I would tell them in a minute what variance meant in this case.

Then I asked about the P, thinking they would immediately say prediction, even though I hadn’t pre-loaded that word into the conversation.  I can’t remember everything they guessed, but the third or fourth guess stuck in my head, and that’s when I told them it was prediction.  One kid raised his hand and said, “PRAY?”  I laughed and said, “Explain that, please,” and he responded, “We pray to roll the same six numbers really quickly?”  At that point I named “P” for prediction and A for “actual,” then gave a few examples, to make sure they not only knew how to fill in the table, but understood that the variance could be positive or negative.

I have never taught negative numbers to these kids, although their classroom teacher has done a quick one day lesson, and many of their parents have told me they have worked with negative numbers because their child asked. However, math just makes sense to these kids, so I don’t worry about them not having prior information–I give them enough to figure the patterns out and they usually do.

As I watched this station, my observations were focused in two ways:

1. I wanted to see if they were indeed calculating the variance correctly and if they “got” negative numbers.

2. I was looking to see if predictions were even close to the actual number of rolls.

What I saw surprised me in some ways.  First, there were a couple of kids whose predictions matched the actual count perfectly at least once. Generally the variance was fairly low, which told me the kids had figured out some patterns in the rolling, and gave me fodder for the next class’ conversation. I was surprised the variance was as low as it was in many cases and was anxious to ask what they were basing their predictions on and what patterns they were looking for in their work.

The kids whose variance numbers were larger were doing things like holding the iPod differently as they shook it, or talking to the iPod as they rolled it, or attaching some ritual to the act of rolling the dice (much like some people blow on the dice before they roll for good luck.) That told me some people were believing, at some level, luck (or chance) could be manipulated, and again, gave me info to use in the next conversation.

While I didn’t initially think this station was as powerful as the others, when I went to observe (and then to reflect here) I realized there was lots to be gained by asking kids to do a similar activity again, with just a small twist. Only one child needed support to understand negative numbers, they all were predicting, couting and recording accurately, and talking to one another about their results as they worked.  PLUS, I found out that despite our work on probability this year, there were a few kids who were still believing they could manipulate chance to improve their results.

The other thing that struck me (AGAIN!) was the motivation they had to predict, shake, record and reflect on their results on the iPod.  The tool is virtual, there is no noise (unless they turn the volume up), but they worked the entire time at this station, doing something they KNEW how to do from prior experiences.

Once again, the iPod Touch motivated them to stay engaged and involved in the learning task. The tool here provides an avenue for learning that allows them to gather data quickly, and easily see results. The tool here engages the student.  AND, the tool here entices the kids to stay engaged.

iPod Touches should be in EVERY classroom!

iPod Pilot Lesson- Station 2

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so this is take 2, the description of Station 2.  (See previous post for description of station 1.)

In Station 2, the kids were to use the WhiteBoard app to drill each other.  They decided they wanted to show this to our visitors to show how the iPods could connect over WI-Fi. When we were establishing the boundaries for the problems, the initial rule suggested was “no plus less than 12.”  You can imagine the conversation that ensued over the meaning of that. . . it was a perfect reinforcement of my prior lessons on the need for precise language in describing mathematical situations, (though I chose not to mention that in this lesson.)  After we established what that meant, I wrote “No + <12” on the board.  (I take every chance I can to reinforce the “greater than” and “less than” sign, as kids typically confuse those or don’t even name them, preferring instead to use the alligator trick.) Someone then suggested no multiplication over 100. I probed as to how many digits could they use, did that mean we couldn’t ask anything beyond 10 X 10, and the agreement became 1 digit by 2 digit problems up to 99 as the highest number, so I added that to our list.  I should have added n x nn, with n being 0-9 and nn=<100, to have that chance to reinforce a variable, the less than sign and algebraic thinking, but I didn’t think of it at the time. We stopped there, as I clearly got the impression they WANTED to practice multiplication facts, so I didn’t even address the other arithmetic operations.

Then I asked about checking correct answers. How were they to do that?  They decided that first, the person who developed the problem would also work it, and they would compare answers. THEN they would check it on a calculator–and they wanted a separate calculator, NOT the one on the iPod.  (I didn’t ask specifically why, but they wanted a separate one rather than move back and forth between apps on the iPod.)

When I went to this table, the problem they had created was 8 X 16. The kid working it, one of my best problem solvers, was doing something in his head , so I asked him to think out loud. He said he’d added 16 and 16 and gotten 32.  I had taught the strategy of “doubling and halving” where if you double one of the numbers, you can halve the other one and get the same answer (i.e., 4 X 32= 8 X 16), so I asked him what he was going to do to the 8 now. He stared at me blankly.  (HMMM. . .I may have taught it, but he, at least, didn’t get it–and neither did his partner, cause she didn’t jump at the chance to answer that one!) He then said, “128” and I asked him how he got it.  He repeated that he had added 16 and 16 and gotten 32 and just kept adding. His partner volunteered, “I did it another way” so I asked how she did it.  She described adding 16 and 16 to get 32 and then 32 and 32 to get 64 and then 64 + 64 to get 128. I didn’t probe as to how hers was different from his, (I think she figured he was continuing to add 16s) and I just wanted them to move to another problem to practice more without me interfering. I left them using the calculator to check, but realized several things about my teaching from their work.

  1. I had taught doubling and halving, but needed to work more with it.
  2. NEITHER of them went to splitting the problem into smaller parts such as 8 X 10 and 8 X 6. I need to help them shore up the various strategies they use, so they don’t rely on the same one all of the time, and learn when to use which to be more efficient.
  3. When I tried to suggest splitting the number, working 8X6 was not efficient for the boy, so he obviously didn’t know that fact. That tells me I need to work on fact mastery some more. This is a kid with an incredible memory, so I need to provide him some opps to practice the facts. Him not knowing that says I haven’t provided enough times to practice it.
As I’m writing this blog, I’m realizing my questions are as much to probe their understanding as they are to get feedback for me on how well they’ve learned and how well I’ve taught what I think I have. I don’t know that the iPod added to THAT process, OR the process of practicing multiplication facts. What it did was it MOTIVATED them to practice.
If iPods will MOTIVATE kids to sit around and make up multiplication facts for each other, then they’re worth having in the classroom, as far as I am concerned. I haven’t found anything non-technologically they’ll stick with like that to practice simple facts.  Their other favorite way to practice is online games. . . and they can do that, too, on the iPods.
I believe devices like iPod Touches MOTIVATE today’s kids to work at school tasks they typically try to avoid, because of the novelty, the “coolness” of the tool, and in this case, the interactivity of this particular app!

My Half Time Pep Talk for 2009

I heard  on May 2, 2009 on Twitter about a day for 24 Hours of Innovation.  The quote on the web site said, “We are happy to invite all bloggers to take part in the “My half time pep talk for 2009″ blog action, organized during the 24 Hours of Innovation event.”

My official time for participation is 5:15 PM EST this evening, but since I’ll be on the road, I’m posting early.

As an educator, thinking of writing a pep talk 3 weeks before school is out is like asking a sports player to write an essay in the locker room right before a big game. My head is not necessarily into a pep talk–instead, I am into all the things I need to be doing: the yearbook we haven’t finished, the testing going on and that I have yet to do, the organization of my room for summer packing, report cards, finishing all the teaching I yet want to do, etc. However, it is kind of exciting, too, to think about innovation as another school year winds down.

In education, we wryly talk about how it hasn’t changed for 100 years–how if a doctor from 100 years ago came into a hospital, he wouldn’t be able to “doctor” but if a teacher from 100 years ago came into school today, she WOULD be able to teach. She’d feel very at home in many classrooms and many schools. Yesterday I saw a question that asked, “If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today?” Both of these statements make me think about schooling, and what it should or could be.

You see, in my school, we have an iPod pilot going on, where a select group of students is trying them and reviewing what they try.  We have amazing parent volunteers who are spearheading clubs like Robotics (FIRST Lego League) and “Roots and Shoots,” a service club. We have some amazing teachers who are looking to involve students in deep learning–setting up STEM opportunities in summer school, and creating a STEM group for girls in afterschool. We have 100 students being redistricted, and so our staff is being shuffled–we’re losing some teachers to other schools, resource teachers will have different jobs next year (some going back into the classrooms) and it’s the end of the year, so money is available to get some “dream” items we didn’t think we’d be able to afford. It’s a year of change for us and some new opportunities for thinking differently are opening up.

Plus, at this time of the school year, we all start thinking of all the things we want to do differently next year, so educators sort of automatically do the half year pep talk anyway each year in May and June. Lots of conversations are occurring with each of us looking ahead hopefully and  thoughtfully about making next year better for our students.

Are there teachers, though, or principals, or superintendents, or school board members who are asking our STUDENTS what kind of change THEY want to see?

Last night our Technology Department presented our Tech Plan to our School Board–and they had kids presenting pieces of it and talking about what needed to happen.  One student talked about access–that students shouldn’t be held accountable for contributing to Google Doc for homework if they didn’t have access at home. Another spoke to the fact that while the technology in the schools may be equitably distributed, it’s the teacher’s knowledge and passion that allows student access and he has been lucky to have had courses that allow him lots of access to our technology.  He knows MANY others who have not.  I am thankful we have technology leaders in this division that put students on our county technology advisory committee, and that we have school board members who are lifelong learners and who see their job on our board as being listeners as well as doers .

It’s not just about the technology, though. It’s about the learning. It’s about the collaboration.  It’s about the creativity, the thinking, the sharing, the consequences, and the process. It’s about the future–and that involves what the kids think, and more importantly, how they feel.

The power of student voice.

The power of student action.

The power of student thinking and sharing

is the innovation schools need to embrace.

Here, fifth graders speak to the power of wikis. Here, architecture students speak to the design of schools. Here, a young girl initiates a change with her blog, “Twenty-five Days To Make A Difference.” **update**  Read this article about Laura’s “Twenty-Five days to Make  A Difference” and how it had a GLOBAL impact!! Here, people work to end hurtful words and MANY students blogged about this campaign to “Spread The Word.” Here, pennies collected by students made a HUGE  difference.  I could go on and on with links to what students have done when given an opportunity, but

what if we simply listened to students in our schools and let them make a difference in how they are allowed to learn?

This morning, I was fussing at my students for not completing their wiki work to the standards we had agreed upon, and one student said, “That would be me.” As we continued the conversation about expectations and I answered questions they had and asked my own, he opened a laptop and began doing something.  He continued to participate in the conversation as he also typed.  I looked at him, and asked, “Are you multi-tasking?”  He smiled at me and answered “Yes, I’m working on my wiki.” I couldn’t help but think that most teachers would have nailed him for getting up, getting a laptop and starting something in the middle of a group conversation. In our classroom, it’s an accepted way of work, as long as you can successfully do both.  Many students today constantly show they can.

We’ve met challenges in schools before, some better than others. The challenges we have today may be different, but teachers who are learners can meet this challenge. Educators who listen to students can help THEM develop ethics and their own filters in this connected world in which we live.  Instead of unplugging and/or locking down our technologies, why not listen to what students envision and try to help them learn how to do it, help them find the resources to live their dreams–or change and grow and evolve their dreams– and also help them learn to build safe banks on their own rivers of creation and information flow?

Thanks to The Board of Innovation for the opportunity to participate in the 24 Hours of Innovation!

Passionate Educators Are Everywhere

This morning  I read a tweet by @e_shep who quoted “Inventing Creativity” http://bit.ly/b2kYT The true pain of being passionate is encountering people who are not.

I think that’s a true statement because so many of us who are passionate are often perceived as dogmatic, or intense, or our passionate contribution to a conversation is misconstrued as “it has to be my way.” One reason I tweet is because I find like-minded individuals on twitter who are also passionate about teaching, learning, technology, students, quality interactions and real, honest, direct and sharing/caring relationships. So many times I have seen people who do not know each other face to face express incredibly kind sentiments to one another, and I have marveled at the ability of strangers to connect so deeply across this microblogging platform.

Today I tweeted out a question: “In thinking of passionate educators, are people on Twitter more passionate educators than you typically encounter day to day?”  I didn’t mean it as an either/or question, but as more of a continuum, or to help me think about the passion behind the educators on twitter.  In 140 characters, I certainly didn’t say all I was thinking, and the responses I got broadened my thinking even more.

Here’s a sampling:

  • UltimateTeacher@paulawhite I love what I do, and I happen to work with some people who don’t feel the same…twittering allows me to help and be helped

  • cwebbtech@paulawhite re: Passionate teachers – I think the teachers who are on Twitter tend to “share” their passion more frequently-globally. (And I’m appreciative of that sharing!)

  • icklekid@paulawhite hard to say if educational twitters are more passionate but tweeting and sharing ideas makes me more passionate about education!

  • tbrewstertbrewster@paulawhite Educators that use Twitter are passionate about sharing ideas, and modeling 21st Century technology skills for their students.

  • melhutchmelhutch@paulawhite passion can seem more evident when you are excited and learning so twitter people seem more passionate- others can be just as p.

So what I’m sharing is that it’s not that teachers on Twitter are MORE passionate than other educators.  Teachers who are passionate about teaching and learning are everywhere and show those passions in lots of ways.  Those of us who do it on Twitter may simply be more overt or public about it in this particular venue.

P.S. and being limited to 140 characters is probably a good thing for many of us!

Teachers as Taskmasters

You might want to read Tom Woodward’s Bionic Teaching and Michelle Bourgeois’ Milibo’s Musings response before reading my thoughts on both of those. Part of the background conversation also happened at Tom’s Bloom’s and Technology Pyramid, Mike Fisher’s Digigogy blog, and Visual Bloom’s and Bloom’s rubrics as well.

Tom and Michelle have been thinking about a teaching/learning challenge for a while. Initially Tom’s idea was “Pimp My Lesson Plan” and it turned into a challenge based on the “Iron Chef.” Having gotten a comment on the challenge on Tom’s blog, Michelle responded and tweaked the challenge potential a bit. Here’s my two cents to add to their challenge.

We all know it’s not necessarily  JUST about the lesson plan, or the hook, or the activity, but about a combination of all of those things that will allow people to put good ideas out for others to use, and that will engage students in important work. When thinking about engaging students in activities that support “higher level thinking” I think about at least the following 3 facts:

  1. We can quantify rigor and relevance, but we experience issues when trying to quantify relationships. As we examine tasks and attempt to “judge” or “rate” them, we must keep in mind that relationships between student and teacher may make what might look like a less meaningful task important BECAUSE of the relationship.
  2. Being mindful of Phil Schlechty’s Working on The Work is crucial to the development of tasks that are likely to lead to student engagement.
  3. When an observer can see at least three of the 8 qualities of engaging work in a learning activity, then 80% of the time students self-report being engaged.

Thus, a learning activity not only has to be tied to good teaching, to the three R’s (rigor, relevance and relationships), and to worthwhile content, but also engage the students in quality ways.

Michelle described two scenarios where students were clearly engaged and the learning activities were built around the objectives for learning. Teachers were thoughtful about how to engage students so that interest was high, interactions between students were heightened and students received feedback throughout the activity. Teaching was centered around the task, which was clearly tied to the learning objectives. Teaching to the task is a GOOD thing!

Tying together the components of what John Antonetti calls “The Engagement Cube” is what I believe is critical to setting up learning opportunities that do what Tom and Michelle (and Mike Fisher and I and @beckyfisher73 and @mwacker and @barbaram and a bunch of other educators) are thinking about as we engage in these conversations around quality education.

The Engagement Cube

Like the title of this blog, I say teachers must be MASTERS of task-making. I do not mean in the traditional sense of the word, as in making sure the work gets done, but as in MASTERFULLY crafting tasks. These tasks should be ones that engage, teach, allow for diversity of thought, stimulate creative juices flowing, and evoke a proud sense of accomplishment. They may even take on a life of their own, resulting in students taking the task to places the teacher may never have envisioned. Through rich tasks that demand rigor in thought and performance, that elicit cooperation and teamwork, students may also discover a passion for the subject or the discipline as well.

I hope my thoughts add TO the conversation and don’t detract from what Tom and Michelle are trying to encourage. These two educators have challenged other teachers to craft great lessons and share them.  Let’s support that challenge and collaborate to create some incredible tasks!